10 Crucial Kitchen Skills Every Cook Should Master

The Season 13 finalists share the essential techniques and practices that even novice cooks can try.

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Knife Skills

Several finalists urge home cooks to learn a basic knowledge of knife skills. "I think learning proper knife skills, although it sounds boring, will make [cooking] more enjoyable," explains Addie. For Blake, the skill is a practical one. "There’s a specific way to cut [an onion] that will take you, like, five seconds, as opposed to just slicing it and trying to cut it a million times over and over," he says. "And then also, it’ll save you a lot of money if you know how to fabricate foods. So if you know how to buy a larger piece of meat and then cut it down into specific cuts and then save it, that’ll save you a lot of money as well." Rusty agrees with that thinking, and he adds, "Once you do that, don’t be so scared of food."

Experimenting Whenever Possible

Amy recommends that you "just keep trying different things." She explains: "Try different foods, try different dishes. I have an instinctual knowledge of what flavors go well together. But if I’ve never cooked — the first time I cooked risotto, I had to Google how to cook risotto. So don’t be afraid to try stuff." Suzanne too notes the importance of determination, saying: "If you don’t know something, go out there and put yourself in that kitchen and learn. Your best teacher is you. Always believe that you can achieve what you put your mind to."

Proper Salt Use

"I can't remember exactly who said it: The difference between good food and great food is always a pinch of salt," Cory tells us. "And that is the truth. I’ve had so many amazing meals, and then I’ve had so many meals that had potential to be amazing if there was just that extra pinch of salt."

Kitchen Safety

"The kitchen can be a very dangerous place, with the knives, the flames," David warns, "so always be aware of your surroundings. Watch what’s going on, watch your temperatures." And with that, of course, comes a careful handling of raw meats, as, he notes, it's "very easy to cross contaminate." 

Balancing Flavor Profiles

"I think the most-important thing is to always try — as far as a dish goes — to have acid, to have sweetness, to have savory and to have everything, every flavor in that one dish. And usually you can’t go wrong with that," advises Caodan.

The Art of the Meal Prep

According to Jason, "the one main thing you should know in the kitchen is how to prep food." He explains: "If you don’t know how to prep it, then you’re not going to be able to cook it. It’s all about the prep." 

Stay Organized

"If you have chaos in the kitchen, nothing comes out," Nancy declares. "Your timing’s off, your process is off. Your organization is off, and everything suffers. Right down from putting [the dish] on the table hot or cold like it’s supposed to be [and] delivering what you thought you were going to deliver. If you’re not organized, everything’s a loser."

Creativity Is a Must

For Toya, it's all about what she calls "the ability to turn nothing into something." She explains what she learned from her professor: "She’d say anybody can cook a good piece of meat, but it takes someone with talent and gift and skill to take a piece of crap and turn it into a delicacy. You have to know how to deal with what you’re working with. 

Remember to Have Fun

"Don't take yourself or your dish too seriously," declares Trace. "I think that’s a huge stigma that a lot of people have in the kitchen — there’s so much emphasis on being that perfect cook with that perfect dish, and [they] end up throwing a whole pot out the back door. But I think learn from what you do, and roll with it and have fun. I think that’s the best tool in the kitchen." 

Don't Forget to Taste

"Broiling, sauteing, tasting your food consistently," Matthew recommends. "Don’t get defeated if you taste your food and it’s not perfection, because that doesn’t happen for anyone. It takes you five to 10 times tasting it, if not more, to get it perfect. I do that in my own cooking; you see spoons in all of my stuff all the time. Get a bunch of plastic spoons, because that’s what’s going to make you great — tasting your own food. It’s actually scientific cause you’re training your taste buds, which then register memories because of the neuro plasticity of the brain. It’s actual physical real estate in your brain for how it should taste, and the neurons set off these transmitters of peace and enjoyment when you can replicate great flavors, and that all comes from tasting your food over and over."

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